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Three Charts That Show Why Culinary School Is Not Worth It

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With the cost of culinary school nearly equaling traditional four-year colleges, a look at tuition and salary data begs the question: Is a culinary arts degree worth the money?

Patricia Chang/Eater

Aspiring chefs considering a degree in culinary arts may want to take into account the potentially low return on a hefty investment. The actual value of a culinary degree is disputed. Some chefs, like Momofuku founder David Chang, say they think the culinary education system is broken. "I don't think it's very fair for people to be paying as much money as they are in a blue-collar industry where they're going to be paid blue-collar wages," Chang told Eater in 2013.

In 2014, top chefs from around the country reinforced that academic credentials pale in comparison with skill and work experience, but some chefs have voiced support for culinary programs. NYC chef Daniel Boulud has said that "[culinary schools] are indispensable to a young chef who really wants to make a career in that field."

But what does the data show?

Culinary schools are expensive.The average tuition cost at 10 of the country's popular culinary arts programs is three times the amount of tuition at standard four-year public universities. The national average tuition for private schools is $28,000 for the 2014-2015 school year. Tuition at New York City's Institute of Culinary Education, which offers two-year diploma programs, is $34,000, while tuition at the International Culinary Center New York is nearly $48,000.

Even with financial aid, the cost of attendance — which also includes room and board, fees, and books, among other expenses — can be high. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, students at the ICC can expect to pay more than $50,000 out-of-pocket to attend the school, even after factoring in the average $16,000 taken out in loans.

What is more troubling for prospective culinary arts students is that there is little hope an expensive degree will boost their future salaries. Even with a degree, the $37,000 median income for a sous chef is 30 percent lower than an executive chef with a high school diploma, according to data from Payscale, which tracks salary and compensation. A year of culinary arts education is almost as expensive as a year at a four-year private university, but executive chefs with degrees make only two to 11 percent more than chefs who only have high school diplomas. The increase is even smaller for sous chefs and line cooks.

Before signing up for classes, budding chefs may want to take a look at the statistics.